A Plumber's Confessions

The blog of Doug Lawty, Microsoft Services Infrastructure Consultant


TIP: Sharing Message Box Text

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Ever seen a message box that you wanted to remember or share? What did you do?

Windows dialog boxIf you're like most, you probably hit Alt-PrtScrn (or worse, just PrtScrn) to copy an image of the dialog to the clipboard. Then, you pasted that image into an e-mail and sent it to a large distribution list.

Invariably, someone on the list let you know exactly how much space in the message store your innocent bitmap took. Instead of getting the answer that you desperately sought, you were only derided for being wasteful with the company's resources.

Well, have I got a tip for you!

When you see the dialog box, instead of copying an image to the clipboard, you can copy the text by simply pressing Ctrl-C. That's right--the standard keyboard shortcut for Copy will cause something like this to be placed on the clipboard:

The text in the Untitled file has changed.
Do you want to save the changes?
Yes No Cancel

Now you can paste this into an e-mail without fear of ridicule. (It also makes it easier to paste that text into a knowledge base search so you can find out what's going on.)


  • The technique works on that msgbox but not on many dialog boxes. For example, if I run this from the Run box in XP Pro SP2 RC2:


    and do Ctrl-C on the dialog box, I get... nothing to paste into Notepad.

    Maybe someone could explain why some windows accept Ctrl-C and some don't? Is there a property that needs to be set to make it work?

    BTW, it would be nice if the next version of Windows would let us select *any* text on the screen and copy it to the clipboard just like we can do in IE.


  • It only works in message boxes that use the "MessageBox" API, not custom drawn windows. :-)

  • What a great tip, I had no idea.

    If you must send a screenshot, I recommend a 24-bit Png, which is easily created with mspaint. Here are some quick steps:

    1. Hit Alt-PrtScrn
    2. Hit WindowKey+R (Run)
    3. Type mspaint
    4. Paste your image from the clipboard into mspaint. If you make the initial image size small, it will automatically expand to fit your clipboard exactly.
    5. Save as 24-bit PNG.

    The quality will be perfect and the size will be minimize. GIF ir JPEG will offer an even smaller file, but it will look terrible for most applications.

  • Hey Nick,

    Those are exactly the steps I followed to make the image of the dialog above! (Well, not exactly, I never remember to use the Windows key but I think that's because on my Tablet's keyboard it's way up on the right.)

    For everyone else, the key part of Nick's tip is the second part of step 4. (You set the image size under "Image | Attributes...") If you forget that, then you'll have a canvas that's too big. You could always select the area you want and use "Edit | Copy To..." to save the selection to a file but PNG is not an option then.

  • Torsten links to me!

  • Cool Tip

  • i've got excited, but... it's extremely annoying now, when too much message boxes are custom. therefore doesn't support this behavior i expect ;(

  • PingBack from http://tanks.tvertne.nu/hquse/2008/10/02/dialoga-loga-teksta-kopesana/